Frank Quilici, a little-known second baseman, manager and broadcaster for the Twins, died Monday at 79. He hit .214 with five home runs in five seasons with the Twins, but he had a unique place in baseball history for two reasons.
One, playing for the Twins in the 1965 World Series, an injury forced him into the starting lineup for all seven games against the Dodgers. In Game 1 in Minnesota’s Metropolitan Stadium, he had two hits in one inning against the Dodgers’ Don Drysdale, a future Hall of Famer. The Twins won the first game 8-2.
And Quilici was the manager who gave Yankees manager Billy Martin the pine tar rule that led to one of the most famous out calls in history - the game where Kansas City’s George Brett went ballistic after an umpire called him out after hitting a home run in Yankees Stadium in 1983.
In 1975, Quilici was managing a struggling Twins team that had two of its best hitters - Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva - battling injuries. Team owner Calvin Griffith wasn’t much help. Quilici had to manage with 24 players on the roster because Griffith didn’t want to spend money and bring up a 25th player from the minors.
So Quilici stayed up nights studying the rulebook, looking for advantages. He found the pine tar rule that limited how much pine tar a batter could slap on his bat. The rule says a batter can’t put pine tar on a bat higher than 18 inches.
In a July 19, 1975 game against the Yankees, Quilici used the rule against the Yankees’ Thurman Munson, who was called out after an RBI single in the first inning. The Twins won the game 2-1.
Quilici went out and told the umpire: “I know this is bush league, but he has too much pine tar on his bat.’‘
In my 2003 interview with Quilici for SI.com, he joked that he stayed away from Munson because Munson had a temper.
The Yankees manager was Billy Martin and their third baseman was Graig Nettles. Nettles remembered the rule and in 1983, when the Yankees were visiting Kansas City, noting that Brett had too much pine tar on his bat. Nettles reminded Martin of the rule and what happened in Minnesota eight years prior.
Martin filed it away and waited for a key moment to get Brett.
A few weeks later, on July 24, 1983, Brett hit a home run for the Royals in a game at Yankee Stadium. Martin protested. Plate umpire Tim McClelland measured the pine tar on Brett’s bat and called him out. Brett stormed onto the field to protest in a history-making tirade.
It didn’t work.
Brett was called out.
In later years, Nettles gave Quilici credit for knowing the rules. Quilici said he had no choice, given the state of the Twins in 1975.
“Thurman Munson was mad at me,’’ Quilici said.
But Martin eventually called to thank Quilici.